TODAY -

The Wretched People Of Manipur And Their Aspirations
- Part 1 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

Maps showing the hill districts, particularly the Naga dominated districts of Manipur
Manipur Maps showing the different districts



Life is not endurance of suffering but resistance to it, not enjoyment of quietude but active involvement, not acceptance of the present but the constant search for a better future. Life is a fierce war. To try to escape is the same as a soldier deserting the battlefield---An Anonymous Vietnamese Writer

Manipur (Kangleipak) is the only land we call Ereibak on the earth. Our motherland takes bloodbath everyday as her sons and daughters and others who come to this land shed blood on daily basis. The cries of this land have not been heard for ages. Amidst the threat of its dismemberment, there are sons and daughters who spend sleepless nights thinking about this land and her people who are divided on ethnic lines and are on the way to cut each other's throats.

With every passing day, those who feel the pulse of this land will reach every nook and corner of the world to tell her tales of agony and sorrow. Those who dream of a better future of this land will rise and move the earth one day. Her sons and daughters will turn every page of history to learn for freeing her from the darkest night of bondage.

As of now, Manipur has an elected government which works mostly to further and safeguard the interests of those in power. There is strong military presence with some armed forces enjoying 'special powers' enacted by the parliament, some strong armed groups which have come under legal fold through cease-fire and suspension of operation and lastly some armed groups which are outlawed as defined by the Indian State for demanding sovereignty of Manipur. For New Delhi, they have under their control the state government which cannot have a firm position representing the wishes of the people, strong military institutions in a heavily militarised tiny state and armed groups under legal fold fighting for ethnic aspirations to manoeuvres the game plans.

For the people of Manipur, the state government has become a regime of oppression which works according to the liking of the central leaders who pay little attention to the grievances of the people since the state became part of India in 1949. In the name of harmony and development, the state government is doing rounds of pacification of the people of this state who have been, time and again, sacrificed on the altar of death in the name of national security.

To make things easier for the law enforcers, they are instilling a mood of submission and inhibition to the people thereby forcing them to maintain the status quo. Freedom of expression, physical movement and assembly are curtailed to a large extent. Parents utter frequently: don't go away for the law and order is bad (matam phatte mapaan thok-khinu).

A culture of self-restraint on our freedom of movement is clearly sounded in our land. We don't know what they do to make situation better so that their children can live/play without any shackles in their land of birth. An atmosphere of 'reign of terror' envelops the mind of the people in Manipur. Most of us hide in our holes to avoid death brought by the present situation. Is this helping us?

Why this culture of self-restraint? Heavy militarisation through deployment of both central and state forces and the imposition of AFSPA leading to a 'culture of impunity' is keeping the people under close scrutiny and they have been contained by rifle butts and unaccounted arms which are frequently used in fake-encounters.

Many parents have sacrificed their children and many have become widows/widowers so that 'other beings' can get awards, medals or promotions. Many others have become 'salaried assassins' intentionally to get those material gains brought by killing and torturing 'other beings' feeding the process of dehumanisation of both the victims and the perpetrators of such atrocities.

For those non-indigenous armed forces, the state used to be a punishment posting but now it is considered a privilege to get promoted through easy killings and for some high rank officers to pocket some extra income from the funds sanctioned for civic military action programme.

The good news is that the centre has enough resources for conducting military civic action programmes in their attempt to 'win hearts and minds' of the people who are resisting the onslaught of the repressive regime. Even if insurgency is an industry for some elements, the situation in Manipur is being exploited by some within the legal protection for their vested interests making the suffering of the people a money minting machine. This class of opportunists are sucking the blood of the people and they have nothing but gain to be reaped from the present situation. Do they want continuance of the present situation?? They know it well.

Thus, Manipur has become a contesting ground for many forces both progressive and reactionary leading to mindless violence, corruption, proliferation of arms, violation of human rights, dissatisfaction, politicisation of ethnicity, tribalism and so on. We have been forced to live under a situation where democratic rights and genuine aspirations of the people have no place. The constitution of this largest democracy on earth has no ears and eyes to see the suffering people of this tiny state.

There have been repeated assaults on the psyche of the people with those who exercise power speaking a 'language of pure violence' thus bringing violence into the 'homes and minds' of the inhabitants. A vicious cycle of people's movement and repressive measures throughout the state has helped in exposing the true nature of the system in which we live. For the people of this state, there is a system that reigns with terror with no genuine concern for the well being and dignity of the people. This system can be anything but democratic.

On the other hand, the indigenous people have started realising their situation compared to those living in the rest of the country or elsewhere. The socio-economic realities, inequality and disparities between them and their counterparts in other places have led to introspection of their positions. The Mayang ruling class who decides the fate of the state belonging to different races has shown their true racist faces and their intentions as experience has taught the people over the last six decades.

Repeated racial attacks in other parts of the country and indifferent attitude of the authorities while dealing with the sons and daughters of Manipur are tell-tale signs of racial discrimination in the country. Such attacks and indifferent attitude of the Mayang leaders toward the genuine demands of the people since 1949 have something to do with our racial minority status in this country and their subjects-ruler mentality.

The repressive policy and decade long oppression of the indigenous population and their underdevelopment cannot be a permanent imprint living in a self-proclaimed democratic country having the bulkiest constitution in the world. Time has brought changes though slowly.

However, some indigenous people are still concerned about personal interests thus following 'every man for himself' (magi magi hingnaba chennaba). Lack of coherent thinking has prevented them from developing the 'collective interests' which is the only way for them to resist the negative forces destroying their peaceful world.

There has been changes taking place as more and more people are realising their situation and the nature of the system. They realise that they are dominated but not domesticated. The indigenous people are made to feel inferior because of their marginalised position both politically and economically in this vast country dominated by racially different groups of people.

However, they are not convinced of their inferiority and continue to dream of a better future. They long to be slaves but could not; or succeeded in being slaves for the time being. Their call for emancipation and liberation cannot be permanently subjugated as history has taught mankind.

After fighting for years demanding their salvation, some have started venting their anger on someone weaker as they have been oppressed and insulted by the stronger one. The accumulated means of war are now turning towards the neighbouring ethnic groups/tribes, clans and individuals. Tribal feuds, historical misdeeds and ethnic hatred are driving the politics of their respective group.

The same has been reinforced and differentiated by the state and some section working for vested interests claiming to be the servants of the people. Many who have been enjoying the fruit of development continue to have narrow outlook which is mainly Imphal-centric and the people in the periphery of the valley and the hill districts have lost faith in the state. Those in the hills (chinglam) and periphery of valley (tampaak loyalam) are turning against the urban population who happen to be Meeteis in majority.

They have started attacking the symbols of the states and an enmity crops up between those who enjoy the fruit of development and those who are denied access to such benefits. Demand for homeland and other arrangement that are built on the foundation of ethnic exclusivity are posing grave threat to the survival and continuity of this land and existence of smaller ethnic groups on earth.

Eruption of such bloody fighting and internecine feuds are potentially dangerous to the collective interests of the indigenous people who are divided on the basis of ethnicity. Any such collective immersion in a fratricidal bloodbath will cause 'collective self-destruction' of the people. This is where Manipur needs to find a way out as soon as possible. This is what all the contesting ethnic groups have to understand.

When the crafty leaders of such ethnic groups can misinform and mislead their people claiming to be fighting for genuine causes for which they stand, the actual reality is nothing but a death wish in the face of danger, a suicidal conduct after losing the games to other. The leaders will die self-deceiving and self-consoling while the people will be left like rudderless ship on a stormy night. This will worsen their situation and these leaders can learn from history of many nations and peoples on earth to avoid such a misadventure in the state.

Besides danger of ethnic clashes, such manoeuvres on the part of the ethnic leaders can lead to self-destruction of the 'family of tribes' for which they fight. As narrow outlook can lead to further parochial thinking, there can be no end to grievances of a section or a particular tribe within such a new arrangement.

Taking into account the global and national forces operating at present, the ethnic leaders need to think beyond the small 'tribal cocoons' and they should start engaging with one another to address the issues that affect the collective interests of these indigenous people. They need to prove that their position is not that of the proverbial two kittens that approached a tricky monkey for settling the dispute over a loaf. The time has come for them to show that they are much more than the monkey.

With some ethnic groups asserting their identities and articulating their grievances and aspirations on exclusive ethnic lines, there is a tendency of the state getting lost to ethnic conflicts. A new history making process is the only way out for these contesting parties through which their historical figures and legacy of resistance against foreign aggression can be understood in a holistic way without reviving the tribal feuds. A national reconciliation process can help in the long run but it is out of question at present.

The state government of Manipur has failed to meet the basic infrastructures of a larger section of the people in the state for decades. This has to be delivered as soon as possible. From development of hill districts to ethnic politics with counter claims over land, there is no end to war of words. As the Nagas in Manipur count on Nagaland for their support, Kukis have approached Mizoram citing their support during the days of Mizo National Front movement. Those Meeteis who are self-deceiving telling themselves that there is no ethnic feuds in this land should realise this fact so that they can play their role to save Manipur.

Manipur is surrounded by Myanmar, Mizoram, Assam and Nagaland which have kin ethnic groups who have been interfering in the affairs of the Manipur on the ground of fraternal ties. Another bitter pill that we have to swallow is the failure of the state government to deliver goods and services to the citizens since 1972 leading to loss of loyalty to the state from many discontented groups. Another fact is the revival of ethnic hatred and feuds referring to past misdeeds. These three factors are at interplay with clever design of New Delhi to remove anti-Indian elements and subjugation of the people to extract what can be termed as loyalty to India.

Corruption is another important enemy of the people and this will continue to destroy national consciousness of the people leading to ethnic tensions. UNC's argument sounds like: There are more corrupt Meetei MLAs and Ministers and therefore, they get more than the few corrupt Naga politicians. The bottom line is whether the system is corrupt or not the Meeteis who live in the valley are enjoying the resources of the state. They can call for social boycott of the few so-called corrupt leaders but the Meeteis cannot follow the same.

Now, the role of the enlightened Meeteis should be opposing corruption, reaching out to the marginalised groups cutting ethnic and geographical barriers to instil confidence in the unity of the people through actions not just words. A constructive criticism of the state policies is the best means at our disposal instead of opposing the state government wholeheartedly.

While some section call for fighting against the state administrative machineries, the present ethnic divide and potential of an ethnic conflict in future demands greater responsibility of the state administration which only can reach out to every part of the state. NSCN (IM)'s scheming of 'no entry' or 'no cooperation' to valley-based armed groups to 'non cooperation' with Manipur government is nothing but last phase of dismembering Manipur. Now the position of Kuki groups are more or less the same as that of NSCN (IM).

The bourgeoisie class who have been enjoying the state resources and have access to power establishment need to give up their 'cocoon lifestyle' and make moves to reach out to other far flung places. Without sacrificing their cosmopolitan outlook, the situation demands their constructive role to enhance national consciousness among the ethnic groups.

There is need for improving transportation and establishment of market centres in strategic areas to facilitate urbanisation both in the valley peripheral areas and the hill districts. Intellectuals need to continue with their job of directing and leading the people of the state through political education of the masses. As the egg needs more time to hatch, one should not break the outer shell and we still need the mother hen. To convert today's foes into tomorrow's friends, there are things one has to do.

For those who want to disintegrate Manipur, becoming a pawn in the hands of stronger power can help a particular party to assert its historical role in the region but the long term gain cannot be guaranteed in the face of other parties coming together against the dominating one. The place of Manipur kingdom and its role in serving the British Indian Imperial interests is worth mentioning in this regard.

The increasing US interests in North east India, US engagement with Myanmar, China factor, ASEAN economic community, SAARC and BIMS-TEC are some immediate global forces acting upon the region. India's national interests can be better served by a dominant ethnic group which has established understanding with New Delhi to further and safeguard its national interests in such a strategic area in the world at present.

Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio's statement at the NESO conference held on November 28, 2012, UNC's statement on the eve of the ASEAN car rally and the political dialogue between NSCN (IM) and Government of India since 1997 are indications of making a 'pacified dominant ethnic group'. While Nagas are trying to assert themselves in the region with blessing from New Delhi, the latter's blessings are to pacify and contain other voices of resistance in the region by co-opting the pacified ethnic elements. This is the only objective if there is another plan B to divide and destroy as many have been talking about.

Stating Naga insurgency as the 'mother of all insurgency movement in the northeast' and the much quoted 'unique history of the Nagas' are clear signs of the Government of India playing the Nagas to serve its interests in the region like what the British India did by joining hands with Manipur kingdom in 19th century. History repeats itself but in different form and colour.

Coming to the repressive policy of the state and atrocities committed against the people of Manipur, the need of the hour is to convert the submissive inhabitants into political creatures who are right conscious and shoulder their responsibilities knowing their place in the historical situation. Only this can bring an end to the cycle of terror, counter-terror, violence and counter-violence. We cannot have the present situation to go on as it is even if we want it to be so. There is change coming with the passage of time. Manipur cannot be an exception to this universal law of change.

We have seen that those who have committed crimes against humanity on the soil of Manipur have been protected by law. Many of the enquiries, commissions and investigation are to pacify the people while the central leaders have given impunity to the armed forces operating in the state to kill those who fight for something called national liberation.

In this land called Manipur, for those who are in power, there is no fake encounter, no summary killing, no rape, no torture, no custodial death. Their family members are law abiding and therefore protected by law. On the one hand, those who are not in power, they are potential law breakers or outlaws who deserve to be in shackles.

Therefore, even if we think these crimes have been committed, the perpetrators are not in the jail, are not executed under the law. They are heroes in the eyes of Indian law book who deserve to get gallantry awards, police medals and promotions. The families of such award winners and medal winners get the privileges provided by the state for the good service rendered to the country by their son/father/husband.

The widowed mothers, children without fathers, those who lost their sons and daughters in this land have no voice but tears. If the union government has to grant permission for bringing central armed forces personnel into trial for a crime, denial of justice to many families who lost their dear ones tells that the Government of India does not count "Satyameva Jayate" that the Indian national emblem preaches. Therefore, denying justice to the victims' families is the truth that Indian democracy stands for. We must expose the lies of the Indian state.

Those who have not been victimised are victims of 'confusion mongers' and 'misinformation' leading to people blaming the family of such death for their anti-national son/daughter without proper investigation. Those who have been killed and brutally tortured are made to look like outlaws for they have been shot death or thrashed on the pretext of being a member of this or that armed group. Thus, fake encounters flourish in this land, many individuals manage to get medals, awards and promotion while some continue to enjoy the bribes given to buy jobs.

Those who are already dead in this land cannot be innocent beings at any cost. This is how the constitution of this democratic country rules the people of Manipur. The good Manipuri is the dead Manipuri. This systematic denial of fundamental rights and justice to the people of this land for decades has something concrete that the indigenous people of Manipur will not forget for centuries. India treats Manipur step-motherly since the 'take over' of the state on 15 October 1949. This will further justify all kinds of movements against the Indian state whether armed or unarmed.

If we don't say no to the policy of 'every one for himself/herself', who will think and work for Manipur. Our decades long reliance on the corrupt system and the corrupt leaders have caused immense loss. Knowing that the system is fill with corruption and it is not delivering goods and services to the citizens is the first realisation we have to make. Besides, the corrupt leaders of yesterday need to wake up and listen to the call of the situation if they sincerely represent the interests of the land and its people cutting across ethnic lines. This will serve our 'collective interests' that include mine, your, his/her and their.

To be continued...




* Puyam Nongdrei wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at khuman_mei(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was posted on December 17, 2012.



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